Since the inception of free agency, the NFL has become a year round business. As soon as the Super Bowl is over, teams start preparing for free agency and the NFL Draft. This is great for us die hard football fans as it gives us a chance to talk football all year long.
For many of us, the off-season is more exciting than the football season itself. Well, maybe that is a bit of an overstatement, but you have to remember, I am a Detroit Lions fan and we were 0-16 last season.
This is the time of year though that no matter how bad your favorite team has been, you can be optimistic that they will either sign a key free agent or make the draft pick that will elevate them to the next level.
Just ask the Atlanta Falcons how important the offseason is. They signed running back Michael Turner in free agency in 2008, drafted quarterback Matt Ryan (among others) and went from last place in the NFC South to a wild card playoff team in one season.
We are a couple of weeks into NFL free agency and there has already been plenty of movement. As usual running back has been a focal point for many teams, but is there a Michael Turner is this year’s running back class? Probably not, but let’s take a look at some of the early free agent running back signings.
Cedric Benson re-signs with Cincinnati
Cedric Benson was released by the Bears prior to the 2008 season and was left without a team at the start of the regular season. He was picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals a quarter of the way through the season and was the team's top back by the season's end.
He played in 12 games for the Bengals and managed to score in double figures four times, including a 38 carry 178-yard performance against the Cleveland Browns in Week 16.
This appears to be a good signing by the Bengals. Benson was a bust as a first round pick for the Chicago Bears, but he showed enough last season to think that he can be a consistent and productive back in the NFL.
He will not be a RB1 from a fantasy football standpoint, but he will be worth a look as a backup in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts in 2009.
Derrick Ward leaves New York for Tampa Bay
Derrick Ward had 1,025 yards for the New York Giants in 2008 as the backup to Brandon Jacobs. He had seven games in which he scored in double figures, including a monster 215-yard game on 15 carries against the Carolina Panthers in Week 16.
He decided to test the free agent market and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He will compete with incumbent Ernest Graham for the starting position, but he will in all likelihood split carries with Graham.
Expect Ward to get around 15 touches a game with Graham being the goal-line back and getting most of the touchdowns. Consider Ward a low-end RB3 option heading into the season selected in the middle-to-late rounds.
Correll Buckhalter signs with the Denver Broncos
Correll Buckhalter has left the shadow of Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook and signed with the Denver Broncos. In 2008, Buckhalter totaled 693 yard with four touchdowns as Westbrook’s backup.
Buckhalter will have a chance to compete for the starting job in Denver in new head coach Josh McDaniels’ system. His biggest competition at this point appears to be second year back Ryan Torain who is recovering from ACL surgery.
Consider Buckhalter a low-end RB3 at this point, but keep an eye on reports out of Denver during the off-season and training camp, if he is the clear cut number one at the start of the season his stock may rise.
Fred Taylor released by Jacksonville, signs with New England
Drafted out of the University of Florida in 1998, Fred Taylor had played his entire 11-year career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Taylor is the Jaguars all time leading rusher, but he was released by Jacksonville early in this off-season. It didn’t take long though for the New England Patriots to pick him up.
Taylor, who has shared carries with Maurice Jones-Drew the past three seasons in Jacksonville, will join an extremely crowded backfield in New England. Taylor will share carries with Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk in New England.
He still has breakaway speed, which is something none of the other backs in New England have to offer. Taylor should manage to get 10-12 carries a game and is worth drafting in the mid-to-late rounds as a backup, especially since you never know what you can expect from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
Maurice Morris leaves Seattle for Detroit
Maurice Morris has left the Seattle Seahawks to be the backup to second year running back Kevin Smith in Detroit. Morris had 132 carries for 574 yards in Seattle last season and that is likely more then he will get in Detroit in 2009.
Smith had a solid rookie season in Detroit finishing just short of 1,000 yards for the 0-16 Lions and will likely get a bulk of the touches. Morris will be the primary backup to Smith and could be a nice third down back. Morris will have limited fantasy value until his role in Detroit is clearly defined. He should only be drafted only as a backup in deeper leagues.
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